Dead Trans Women in the Print Guillotine — Justice For Dr V

Please note since the initial publication of my essay below, Grantland offered a formal statement on their rationale for posting the article.  I respond to Bill Simmons and his apology here , if you’d like to read my followup reactions to the popularization of Dr V’s suicide as trans. Thank you.

I can’t say that poetry ever saved my life.

In my case …  gravity — and cheap Vancouver apartment fixtures — saved my life.

The story of how I attempted to hang myself must remain abbreviated here, although that event most certified my desire to confront my gender dysphoria and transition. Given its importance in that sense of my own self-reckoning, I will discuss that moment of a little taste of death, another time.

For now the impression of that last moment — the involuntary closing my eyes — the bull roar in ears of an oncoming train, as the BJJ belt I’d tied in a noose of artistry round my neck, knowing the the length of my carotid artery’s trail, crimping off flow to my brain. The slivering of my vision into creases then slits of shrinking light — the loss of consciousness, paralyzing dark, and inescapable slackening of the skeleton. I had passed out, dangling in my shower, from the rod to which I was suspended, neck bent and almost dead, for many seconds. Until the rod-scaffolding tethering me, holding me suspended in brain suffocation, broke and I fell, skull first, into the bathtub.   My last thoughts were — I’m going to die, without even leaving a note. Unknown but for whatever version of events gets redacted after my unnoticed passing.

A good portion of the world perceives the existence of trans women as a perverse heresy, disturbed aberration,  and a disgusting impertinence. The statistics of us who find the world, in response, inhospitable and not worth remaining within staggers the effort to measure. Not all trans people consider, or attempt, suicide. But 10 of us in a room, and 4 or 5  of us would put up our hands if asked. Myself among them.

Vancouver-based author Amber Dawn wrote a well-received memoir entitled How Poetry Saved My Life, which, as the subtitle informs us, relays her experiences of survival, queerness, and sex work — as well as the place of poetry, from Renaissance sonnets to Sylvia Plath’s caustic iambs, in her “labour for becoming whole”.

It’s a lovely, honest, and decisive book, but my purpose is not to review it here. A friend of mine is teaching it in her first year lit class, and I skimmed an edition sitting on her table over tea one day.

Unfortunately, with the terrible phenomenon of bad luck that comes with triggering topics, I managed to flip to the page that describes a makeshift memorial for a dead “tr*nny”, the epithet employed by one of the people in Dawn’s book (a slur which passes rather uncorrected in the narrative, I’m sad to say.) An Asian-Canadian sex worker, disappeared and discarded by all but her loose set of associates, the memory of her murdered body becomes something of an object lesson in cruel poignance in Dawn’s recollections.

The dead tr*nny: Almost a non-entity, defined by some merely notional sense of being a woman, rendered through scorn and contempt into a posthumous curio of twisted social content for editorials of disregard.

Her name was and is  Shelby Tom, a transgender sex worker who was brutally murdered in North Vancouver, 2003, by a client who went into a killing rage when noticing a scar on her body that he presumed evidenced prior SRS.

Tom’s literal absence in Dawn’s book, except as aporia of disappearance and death, underscores the continued diminishment in death of so many trans women. Disdained even in remembrance, the “dead tr*nny” is already a vanished discourse, a speechless shell as exhibited by a cissexist status quo archeology without remorse.

Who was Shelby? Her history? Her story? Unwritten except in death, retold to us only by secondhand slurs and the street dialect –  the present imperfect that is the repeat action of ongoing discrimination. I think of Shelby when warnings circulate through the trans community of beige vans on Kingsway attacking random trans women under the assumption that we all must be working. Dawn tells of how Tom’s memory had been vandalized even after she was tend, describing how she attends a TDOR ceremony at which Shelby’s name, along with so many other trans women of colour, is recited.

In a grim moment of literalness and symbolism that only the cruelest of circumstances could manage — Dawn describes how the TDOR ceremony is interrupted, mid recitation, because university management had only allowed the campus room to be used by TDOR mourners for a certain amount of time. Reading off a litany of murdered transgender women just took up too much electricity. As Dawn relates, they literally turn the light on to blow out the candles of the vigil. Lives cut short. Beyond metaphor,  and a common course from coming out.

Our fought-for identities are the dregs of their afterthoughts. Improper treatment and dearth of respect, hasty burials, newspaper misgendering, wrong names on gravestones. Transgender people cannot be certain that even our most important wishes will be given care or consideration, especially after we’re gone.

For many of us, being trans — the guillotine and the printing press can deliver the same destruction.

Ms Lucy Meadows taught at a UK primary school, where she began her gender transition in late 2012. The local media caught whiff of a scandalous sheet stamper of a story, but the truly horrendous moment for her came when prominent text assassin Richard Littlejohn ran a scathing think of the children klaxon alarm based on the most disgusting stereotypes of trans women as corruption of decency and destroyers of innocence. A trans women, a primary school teacher — Littlejohn found his unholy astrology all in one woman to shame for the coliseum commentators of thumbs-down derision. She took her own life with the onset of the enmity machine.

Lucy Meadows had been one of the most depressing examples in recent times as to why trans women will take the escape of suicide over the condemnation and vilification shared by a greater or lesser measure of the majority of the population.

And then this happened. And even my bitter jade mind balked at taking account of the barbarity.

A trans woman had been living stealth and succeeding in her unusual career as a design of speciality golf clubs. Pendulum putters, precise physics of pitch and trajectory, engineering the flight of a small white ball. Not my cup of tea, but whatever. She was good at what she did. A success.

A sport journalist decides to write a piece on her latest invention, but, in the course of researching her work, uncovers that she’s trans.

Two options: (1) politely recognize that you’re being a prying prat and realise that this has no relevance to your article; (2) be a completely soulless cretin by confronting her about it, threaten disclosure in print, and insinuate that she’s to blame for being deceitful.

The full account is yet to be known, but it appears our author — no, I will not name him nor link the butchery of his hatchet prose — chose some version of no. 2.  He outed her, fixating on the shock and disgust — “a chill ran down my spine,” he notes — that arose in his manly, golf-pro soul on account of this bit of snide detective work.  Utterly callous, judgmental, misgendering. He outed her for publicity. Just too kooky a narrative bender to exploit! How fortuitous a find. The titillating publicity was just too good to pass up. Lifewrecking for headlines.  Punish her success! Judge her deceit!   I started to write about putting greens — and then this shocker! What a career opportunity! Ethics be damned. The click counts and stats bars could be exponential all-time high best evers! The advertising. The traffic. The professional cred of notoriety. Reputation.

Yeah, reputation: our author hoped to raise his own through the destruction of another’s. She’s trans. Justice of what’s coming — retribution and revulsion . . . a just dessert of disclosure. She deserves it. To be dehumanized. “Uncovered.” (That’s how they think of us: believe you me.) And the whole while the journalist ruminates in print like he’s just visited a caged parrot in a zoo of the exotic. (A parrot with — piano chord — a prurient past!) Extra, extra. Read all about her, or him … or shim .. well, just a plotline “it.”

And terrified at being paraded around as a freak artefact in a major sport publication, bullied by the author’s haranguing . . .  Dr V — and we can only imagine her last impressions of this vicious world — took her own life.

Undaunted by having blood on his hands, greedily sensing what kind of chum to the trolls this little diddy of a dead tr*nny would be, the writer rewrites the putter-articles into a perverse, insensitive ‘strange but true!’ tabloid smash job on her dead body.  Use the printer’s word, the agency of journalism, to e-compile her personal history into a menagerie of recriminations and deprecation. Hector her with threats of the tell-all. Invalidate her life and call her to the “tale of a troubled man”. Whatever relevant questions the author might have had about her educational history, those would seem to fall within ethical respectability and journalistic integrity. {These issues are compellingly discussed by Maria Dahvana Headley, as well as Michael Handler.} But, instead, the author builds the entire story of scrutinizing golf strokes into a scurrilous moment of culmination: “Surprise! it’s a DUDE!” What’s more, just to make sure the “trap” was exposed, they were all bravado talk on twitter about how proud they were of the article, and its endgame revelation.

Truly despicable. It’s absolute proof of the dangers in dealing with the media when you’re trans: if you’re out, you get ambushed with offensive enquiries and become the mocked piñata of the hecklers set. Stealth, and you live in fear of being forcibly outed and your life treated like a twisted plot device for pulp detective pap.

Let’s be clear about what our immoral journalist did for gumshoe glee: Not only was he absolutely unrepentant about playing shell games with a trans woman’s privacy, even as she frantically pleaded for relief while he dug up her birth certificate …  but the magazine was actually chuffed at the ‘investigative journalism’ and ‘strange but true!’ notoriety they think they’ll get. Proud! They actually said they were proud of what they did, because she was not a ‘who’ worthy of regard.  A trans women chose self-murder over enduring the onslaught of abuse and humiliation wrought at the hands of golf journalists looking to up their reader stats.

To paraphrase a discussion I had last night — her transition had been framed as the eyeball roll climax of a fraud narrative; and this sort of dehumanizing, reductionistic abuse is truly appalling. If you care about golf clubs, what has her history as a trans person to offer any relevance? Where’s the sport in that, compared to a public outing her and marketing her trans identity as the publicized apex of a “ha-ha got you!” revealing con … especially knowing she had a history of self-harm? The privilege and abdication of responsibility. The disgusting disavowal of her dignity. Fatality for reader views. That’s what a dead trans woman looks like after the print guillotine does its awful indiscretions as a showcased spectre to boost a view count. They outed her, she commits suicide, and they publish their article with prim righteousness about telling a bewildering story. And thinking themselves of the so very clever for turning what started out as a banal tale concerning magic putters into a vignette of execution.

All I can say is this. And I’m going to say it: these are rapacious, predatory journalists who, despite their fondness for “the gentleman’s game” with extra finesse, sniffed that they had a “believe it or not!” and “weird wacky world weirdos!” denouement to serve up as fucking link bait.

Her death = their blog hits. What else could have motivated such inhumane treatment? What else would drive their avaricious momentum of the editors to publish the article even before her mocked body had turned cold?

What will be said of Dr V over the forthcoming weeks?  What gormless hacks will seize on this sad event as blog fodder, think pieces, or intrusive word-autopsies for the safe and secure text magnets. For TERF snickers and Saturday morning paper punchlines? For your privileged pride, arrogant composure, and fatuous smugness? You glib nooses. You evil scumbags.

Yes, the trans community is raging for one of our own. Will you dare to tell us that we’re being an unruly mob, yet again?

Another beautiful trans woman of great capacity, first frustrated by the world, but surviving as best she could, and now her memory vivisected by spectacle and inquisition even in the peacelessness of her death.

#JusticeforDrV